Edgar Sydenstricker (1881–1936) was a pioneer public health statistician, an eloquent advocate of measures aimed at enhancing the health of the American people, and an inspiring teacher who impressed on his students the importance of recognizing their social responsibility to attack and solve intractable public health problems. He was born in Shanghai, China, the son of American Presbyterian missionary parents, and educated at Fredericksburg College in Virginia. After working as a journalist for two years, he then studied political economy at the University of Chicago before commencing a lifetime of public health service, concentrating on the problems of the poor and the underprivileged.
Sydenstricker worked in the United States Public Health Service (PHS), for the League of Nations, and for the Milbank Memorial Fund. In the PHS he worked initially with Joseph Goldberger on studies of pellagra, then in 1920 he was appointed chief of the Office of Statistical Investigations. In this office, he initiated many investigations, the best known of which was the Hagerstown Morbidity Survey, which began in 1921. This could be regarded as a precursor of the U.S. National Health Survey. Related surveys followed, using the same methods of intermittent or continuous observation, including surveys on the costs of medical care. In collaboration with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, he produced detailed statistical analysis of the information contained in the medical examination records of policy holders. In 1923, Sydenstricker developed some of these studies at an international level for the League of Nations while on leave from the PHS. During the Great Depression, he conducted studies of the effects of poverty and deprivation on health. He died suddenly at age fifty-four of a cerebral hemorrhage.
JOHN M. LAST
Kasius, R. V., ed. (1974). The Challenge of Facts: Selected Public Health Papers of Edgar Sydenstricker. New York: Milbank Memorial Fund.